Joe Root insisted he will wait until the end of the Ashes tour to discuss his future as Test captain and called on English cricket to “reset” its approach to the red-ball format after Australia claimed a series victory in the space of 12 days.
In the aftermath of England’s innings defeat in Melbourne, an unassailable 3-0 scoreline sealed by an embarrassing collapse to 68 all out on the third morning, Root was asked whether he wanted to continue in a role that has brought an English record 27 Test wins and yet seven defeats from eight in Australia.
“The series isn’t over yet. We’ve got two very big games and, more than anything, it’d be wrong to look past that,” replied Root, who was among the victims as debutant Scott Boland managed remarkable bowling figures of six for seven from four overs. “I’m in the middle of a very important series. My energy has to be all about trying to win the next game. I can’t be selfish and start thinking about myself. I think more than anything you’ve got to keep looking to do everything we can to get the players in the best possible place to go and win Test matches.”
Root had earlier been removed for 28 during 80 minutes of carnage, meaning his own personal annus mirabilis with the bat fell 80 runs short of breaking Mohammad Yousuf’s Test record of 1,788 in a calendar year. Ultimately others have fallen short here, with Rory Burns, dropped in Melbourne, the next best with 530 runs in 2021. On the third morning they also registered their 54th duck of 2021, equalling a record set in 1998.
This was also England’s ninth defeat since the start of January, equalling another record for a calendar year. After 2016 saw eight Test losses, the year ended with a jaded Alastair Cook stepping down from the captaincy.
It may be that the decision is taken out of Root’s hands, with both he and the head coach, Chris Silverwood, set to see their positions reviewed by Ashley Giles when the director of men’s cricket arrives in Australia next week before the fourth Test.
The problems appear to go beyond captain and coach, however, with this latest Ashes trouncing furthering calls for English cricket to re-evaluate its approach to the first-class game. Root hopes a reboot occurs, similar to the one that followed England’s harrowing 2015 World Cup campaign and then saw Eoin Morgan lift the trophy four years later.
Root said: “It’s a big part of where the game is at in our country right now that the only place you can really learn [to play Test cricket] is in the hardest environment for what is quite a young batting group.
“They’re having to learn out here in the harshest environments. You look back at 2015 and the reset that happened in white-ball cricket, and maybe that’s something that needs to be happening in our red-ball game as well.”
In the short term the England team are dealing with a Covid-19 outbreak among the near 60-strong touring party that has seen three coaches and three family members test positive for the virus and forced to isolate and could yet threaten the completion of a tour that, after Sydney, concludes with a day-night Test in Hobart.
Both sets of players were cleared by emergency PCR tests before the third day was allowed to commence at the MCG, with additional testing to take place over the coming days.
For Australia the series win caps a rewarding couple of months that began with a surprise victory at the T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates. However their captain, Pat Cummins, declined to be drawn on the future of the head coach Justin Langer, whose position has been the subject of much debate over the past 12 months.
Cummins, who replaced Tim Paine before the start of the series, said: “I think we’ll savour this victory today and continue the Ashes. I don’t think today is the day to speculate on [Langer’s future]. We’ll all sit down together after this series. His contract is up for renewal in a few months and we’ll deal with that then.”
On his side’s Ashes campaign to date, Cummins added: “It doesn’t just feel like a three-nil victory, it really feels like we’re setting ourselves up for the next few years as well. We’ve got seven players in the top 10 of the world at the moment – four batters [Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, David Warner and Travis Head] and three bowlers [Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc].
“We probably haven’t strung the performances over the last couple of years that we probably expected of ourselves. So I think this really consolidates that we are a really good, strong Test cricket side and it’s a good sign for the next few years.”